PM Sets His Sights on Nobel Laureate Wiesel for the Presidency

In a surprise move, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is suggesting a new candidate for president - not an Israeli, but Nobel Prize Laureate Elie Wiesel.

Yechiel Spira, | updated: 06:34

In a surprise move, the prime minister suggested Wiesel as a possible candidate to replace President Moshe Katzav. While Mr. Olmert has been careful not to publicly undermine the president, it is now apparent that Mr. Katzav will likely be compelled to step down from office in the near future. Katzav will likely be facing a multi-count criminal indictment and his future will be determined by the outcome of the judicial proceedings against him.

Olmert has made it clear that he prefers a president who does not emerge from the ranks of the political arena, as was the case with Katzav and others. Wiesel, who is internationally acclaimed, has been awarded the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize and is widely respected internationally.

Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor, would be compelled to move to Israel if he accepts the nomination and is elected, and would immediately be granted Israeli citizenship. Olmert pointed out that selecting a non-Israeli for the post is not without precedent; Albert Einstein was encouraged to move to Israel to serve as Israel's president in its early days, but he turned down the offer.

Mr. Wiesel speaks Hebrew, along with a number of other languages, making him even more suited for the post, the prime minister explains.

Mr. Olmert is also considering throwing his support behind former Prisoner of Zion Natan Sharansky, who recently announced his resignation from politics. He has accepted a position in Jerusalem’s prestigious Shalem Center.

Sharansky served in the past as a cabinet minister and is respected worldwide for his published views regarding issues of human rights and terrorism. He sat in Soviet prison for close to a decade because of his struggle to emigrate from the former USSR to Israel.

Other candidates on the horizon include Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau. A child survivor of the atrocities of the Holocaust like Wiesel, Rabbi Lau is perhaps best know for his ability to articulate traditional Jewish views and his tenacious efforts to bridge the gap between Jews. While identified with the ultra-Orthodox world and uncompromising in his observance, Rabbi Lau continues to exhibit a policy of tolerance and respect, preferring to utilize dialogue and understanding as his weapons.

Other names of likely candidates include former Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, who enjoys wide support in the Knesset. However, the prime minister is unlikely to support Rivlin, who remained in the Likud Party when Olmert and his supporters left to join Ariel Sharon’s Kadima Party. Since the break-away from Likud, Rivlin and Olmert have been political rivals.

Senior Labor Party official Minister Binyamin (Fuad) Ben-Eliezer is also a candidate, but few believe he has a realistic chance.

Vice Premier Shimon Peres has already signaled he too may run for the post. Peres lost to Katzav six years ago in the secret Knesset vote.

Many analysts believe that despite being among the most respected politicians in the world, Peres would not take a chance on running once again for office. Peres, 83, is widely known in Israel as “The Loser,” barely ever having won an election.

The president, Israel’s head of state, is elected to a five-year term by a majority of the Knesset in a secret ballot. The president can be reelected for only one more consecutive term.